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  • Writer's pictureMaria Khan

Behaviour with People of Other Faiths. Surah al-Tawbah

Updated: May 29, 2020

If any one of the polytheists seeks asylum with you, grant him asylum so that he may hear the word of God; then convey him to a place of safety. That is because they are a people who have no knowledge. (9:6)

This verse tells us a principle which commentators of the Quran agree is valid for all times. Hasan Basri says this verse will remain unabrogated till the Day of Judgment. It shows us the great importance attached to dawah, conveying the message of God to people. This should be the primary consideration in the mind of a believer. Everything else is subject to this. That is, in a situation of threat or danger, we may fear enmity or opposition from a person. But even in this situation, if he seeks knowledge from us about the message of the Quran, we have to welcome him in a friendly way. And if after listening to us, he does not accept the message we explain to him, he has the full freedom to go back to his region in complete safety without any adverse action from our side.

These days we too easily call people ‘kafir’, ‘nonbeliever’, ‘infidel’ and ‘heretic’. But this verse of the Quran gives us a very important message. That is, we must focus our utmost on fulfilling our responsibility of conveying the message of truth to people. This involves having genuine well-wishing in our heart for people. The Prophet has even said: “Well-wishing is religion in its entirety.” We must never dismiss others by calling them names. He is ‘kafir’, we shouldn’t speak to him or meet with him, or participate in any activity with him. He is an ‘enemy of Islam’, we should call down God’s curse on him. He is a ‘nonbeliever’, he will surely go to Hell. All this is tantamount to taking the seat of God. He alone knows what is in people’s hearts and what He will do with them. We cannot be the judge over people. Rather, God has enjoined to us that even in an exceptional situation of risk, the task of dawah, letting people know about their Creator, His mercy and compassion for them, is a task which must not be abandoned. This gives us a crucial message: that in no situation can a Muslim afford to have feelings of enmity or hatred in his heart for others.

Whenever the Prophet dispatched a group of his Companions to another people he would advise them: “Treat people gently and do not regard them with scorn or ridicule. If you bring to me people who have realized faith, it would be dearer to me than when you kill them or bring them as captives.” We do not have to simply take from the Prophet how to pray and how to fast, but also how to behave with others. In this light we have to reflect on how we think and behave with respect to people of other faiths. Have we sincerely engaged in conversation with them for their well-wishing to share with them the wisdom contained in the Quran about this life and the afterlife? Or have we forgotten this task completely and gone ahead declaring them as enemies without even extending any mercy and concern for them? This will not make us followers of the Prophet. He was a mercy to all mankind; and we too have to adopt this to be his true followers. No ‘we and they’ follows.

Our general behaviour toward people should be friendly and amiable. We must not use terms for them which reflect that we have feelings of superiority over them and assert our difference from them. Islam discourages the mentality or mindset of “we and they”, or “us and them”. Rather, we must look at people as members of the single humanity of which we are also part. The Quran repeatedly describes God as Rabbul Alamin, or Lord of all the worlds and not only Lord of the Muslims. The Prophet of Islam would rise up every morning and pray to God: “I bear witness that all mankind is a single family. God loves the most those who are kindest to His family.” We have to live in society with such kind of spirit for people around us. The Prophet instilled this spirit in his Companions.

For example, a tradition narrated in Sahih Bukhari. The Prophet once decided to send ʿAlī to a group of people in Khaybar. ʿAlī said that they would fight them, to which the Prophet replied: “Go forth gently until you reach their dwelling place, then call them to Islam and inform them of what has been made obligatory upon them. For by God, if a single person receives guidance through you, it is better for you than everything upon which the sun rises.” Deal with people as if they are humans, not lesser beings than you. Farwah ibn Musayk asked the Prophet if he should fight with those among the people of Sabāʾ who had not yet accepted Islam. The Prophet advised him, “Call the people [to Islam]. Welcome those among them who accept, but do not be in haste with regard to him who refuses until you hear from me.”

This pattern of introducing religion to people with mildness is also seen in the daʿwah of the Companions. At the request of Aws and Khazraj, the Prophet dispatched his Companion Muṣaʿb ibn ʿUmayr to instruct the people of Madinah in the new religion. Muṣaʿb was once sitting in the quarters of Banū ʿAbd al-Ashhal with Asaʿd ibn Zurārah and a group of new Muslims. When Saʿd ibn Muʿādh, one of the chieftains of Madinah came to know of the Makkan preaching to people from his tribe, he became furious and went up to him with a sword and asked him to immediately halt his activities. Muṣaʿb’s responded calmly to Sad. He requested: “Will you not sit down and listen to us? If you hear something worthwhile, accept it. If, on the other hand, you hear something unworthy, you may put a quick end to it. To this Saʿd replied, ‘You are fair.’”

Q1. What should be the basis of love for people?

A1. Civilization is a result of hard work of people since past several generations. All the amenities we enjoy today are product of people’s great labour and toil. Then we have modern medicine, healthcare, infrastructure, communications, transport and technology. All this was not miraculous. People generation after generation have worked for it. For example, Quantum Mechanics is the basis of technology today. It took great many years to develop. Similarly, it is said about Einstein that he tormented himself for 10 years at a stretch to come up with a structure for his general theory of relativity, which is now aiding us in our understanding of gravity, an aspect of which was not understood even by Newton. It helps us in knowing how the Creator built the cosmos with intricacy. People have a huge share in our lives. This should cause love, compassion and gratitude to well up in hearts. The entire humanity is our benefactor.

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